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Media Watch

The German Press Assesses The U.S., And It's Harsh

We asked Matt Hermann to give us the German media's point of view on the U.S.' national team, including thoughts on John Brooks' big goal. Let's just say they don't soft-pedal their criticism of the team.
BY Matt Hermann Posted
June 19, 2014
1:14 PM
SAO PAOLO—With Ghana beaten, the United States national team are over the first hurdle.

But challenges remain, not least the one posed by Germany. Die Mannschaft clobbered America’s next opponents, Portugal, to lead Group G on goal difference, and could yet knock Jurgen Klinsmann and co. out of the World Cup if the former German coach can’t get a result on Sunday.

So what impression did the stirring win against Ghana—and German-American John Brooks’ big role in it—make in Germany? And do fans of the German national team actually see the United States as a threat? Here’s a peek at what Germany is saying about the “US-Boys.” (Yup, that’s what they call the Americans.)

The first stop has to be kicker, the sports magazine of record in Germany. The paper publishes twice weekly, and is basically the serious soccer fan’s bible.

For that reason, kicker was as surprised as anyone to see John Anthony Brooks become the hero on the night. The Hertha BSC defender only went a full 90 minutes 10 times for the Berlin club in 2013-14, scoring two goals and receiving below average ratings. Twice in the season’s first six matches, Brooks was substituted in the first half.

In an article entitled “Brooks turns his dreams into reality,” the author marvels at the 21-year-old’s skill at premonition, and emphasizes how far he has come in just a few months. Klinsmann and Andreas Herzog apparently had a series of discussions with Hertha coach Jos Luhukay and Sporting Director Michael Preetz in the spring over whether Brooks was ready to handle going to Brazil.

They decided he was, fortunately for the U.S., though the piece includes a note of caution from Herzog: “Sometimes, as a central defender you have to be a real dirtbag—he has to learn that. He doesn’t know how good he actually is.”

In Brooks’ hometown, Berlin, the papers also cast his story as a redemption tale. Broadsheet Tagesspiegel, reminded readers of the huge, largely unfulfilled expectations put on the youngster last season—a season in which he was sent to train with the reserves at one point, and spent several weeks boycotting the press. B.Z. , the city’s most popular tabloid, emphasized the most tabloid-ready low point: the fresh back tattoo that upset coach Luhukay so much that he left Brooks off a game day roster in April.

Prior to the Ghana match, the German take on the U.S. had been respectful, if not enthusiastic. kicker’s overall take on the U.S. in the lead-up to the tournament was lukewarm but informed, strengthened by the fact that the guy who wrote the dossier on the team is an American himself—longtime correspondent Jerry Hawkins. It’s fascinating to see how he sizes up the USA for a German audience.

In kicker’s World Cup preview special, Hawkins told readers about Klinsmann’s formation experiments, as well as his wish to teach the team to play a more proactive style instead of relying on the counter game.

Coupling that style with a few ingrained American cultural attitudes, however, is where the U.S. might get into trouble, wrote Hawkins: “A typically American trump card is to have an almost naive lack of respect for more powerful opponents. The belief that you can beat anybody can move mountains...but for a technically limited side, a brave game plan like this can also become a boomerang.”

11Freunde, a monthly magazine with a cult following among Germany’s many soccer hipster types, sounded a similar note of alarm in its preview.

“Klinsmann has progressed since he charmed the football world with the exciting style of the German national team in its home World Cup. But the nucleus of his philosophy—compact in defense, strict organization in midfield, explosive up front— remains the same...It’s a style that’s good for spectacle, but also one that tactically well-schooled teams can exploit...That’s why it’s likely Klinsmann will need to play a counter-oriented style against Germany.”

Other highlights in the (print only) special edition are a long interview with Jürgen Klinsmann and an article about Timothy Chandler’s bumpy ride toward a decision between casting his lot with the DFB or the USSF. Klinsmann explains Berti Vogts role in the coaching team (“He’s my tactical sounding board...he’ll say, ‘Why don’t we try this pattern on a corner kick?’ and in the Mexico game it was his corner that got us the 1-0.”) And we also learn that we may have Chandler’s former Nurnberg teammate Marvin Plattenhardt to thank for convincing him to play for the U.S. (Before you ask, Plattenhardt is not U.S. eligible—just a good buddy of Chandler.)

Among non-specialist sports publications, Bild is the most important. The mass-market paper has the biggest circulation in Europe and its sports section is often first to break stories on the German national team. But aside from Germany, which it covers exhaustively, the paper doesn’t offer much analysis of other teams, preferring to focus on star names who sell papers.

Bild’s strength is access. Here is where you’ll get interviews with Chandler’s mother (his errant balls knocked out the outdoor lights three three times growing up; his favorite food is tuna salad) as well as with Fabian Johnson (“We want to beat Ghana. If we do that, anything’s possible”). Bild is also where you can read “Julian Green’s Diary,” a daily look behind the scenes at the Bayern youngster’s movements at the U.S. camp. Here you’ll find out that “today’s training session was hard,” and “the accommodations are super,” and there are some some choicer tidbits on Green’s ping-pong matches versus Jozy Altidore and Nick Rimando.

In B.Z., the mood surrounding Germany is ebullient. The headline on the cover to the World Cup supplement read “Hands off—this time the cup belongs to us,” so it’s not a big surprise that they seem to view the United States as a mere speed bump along the way to the title.

“Outstanding individuals are what’s missing from Klinsmann’s team,” the paper says, going on to single out Tim Howard, Clint Dempsey, and Michael Bradley as leaders, as well as tip of the hat to Fabian Johnson as “the surprise of the pre-tournament camp.”

B.Z. doesn’t hazard a prediction as to how the group will stack up, but it’s easy to see they take the U.S. most lightly out of all three opponents. Germany will beat Portugal 2-1 and Ghana 3-2, the paper says before saying “Germany look much stronger than the U.S., but the Americans can battle. Joachim Low’s team will keep a clean sheet and grind out a 2-0 win.”

Spox.com, one of Germany’s best sports websites and the one for which Jurgen Klinsmann moonlights as a score prognosticator for each Bundesliga match day, struck a much more positive tone in its capsule of the United States national team.

The site pointed out Jozy Altidore’s ample skills and solid performances for the U.S. over the years rather than dwelling on his car-crash of a season at Sunderland. It also praised the team’s fitness and form in qualifying with ease as well as winning the most recent Gold Cup.

Their takeaway: “Even as the Americans would seem, at first glance, to be the weakest team in the group—as well as weakened by the dropping of their star Landon Donovan—this team is an insider’s tip to make it to the round of 16, and is notable as a collective...The USA should not be underestimated.”

What do you think about the German media's take on the U.S.? Fair? Harsh? Chime in with your thoughts below.

Matt Hermann is an anchor/producer at DW-TV and the host of the German football podcast Talking Fussball. Follow him on Twitter.

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